Why Not Throw A Garlic-Themed Dinner Party?

My husband Brian tells this story about the time he and a few friends tried to throw a party in their dorm room freshman year. I think they even made up a few flyers, ordered a keg, and nobody came. Well, a few people showed, but when the guests saw hardly anyone else was there, they made a hasty retreat. Brian and his friends had to return the keg almost full.

Now Brian thinks that story is funny—why else would he tell it so often?—but it kind of kills me. It also explains a lot about his current desire to be the consummate host of our neighborhood. I've written before about how I would like a mellow holiday dinner, but Brian goes all out. He has the same strong hosting feelings throughout the year. Our house is small, our kitchen tiny, yet when the fifth-grade basketball team is unable to find a spot to throw the end-of the season party, we're the first to say, "Hey everyone, just come on over."

Lately Brian's become more interested in themed parties, like a group cassoulet effort, or for the past three years, a garlic festival. Last year it was called Festival Of Garlic 2: The Chickening, which included some vindaloo and of course a 40-clove dish. This year, Festival Of Garlic 3 was titled The Slices Of The Lambs. Someone asked if or theme nights were indeed horror-movie inspired and I said yes but that I didn't know why.

Brian made a lamb curry so hot his dad cried out when he tasted it for the first time, along with a chicken garlic stir-fry. But the fun part of a themed dinner party is seeing what inspires other people. To me, it's like the best kind of potluck, one with a pretty high bar. We had appetizers like honey-poached garlic and a strong ceviche, as well as a tomatoey take on garlic bread. I made a pungent Greek garlic spread (recipe coming tomorrow). But our neighbors poured in with an sopa de ajo with Hungarian bacon; grilled lamb kabobs; a lamb vindaloo pot pie; a moussaka that got demolished almost immediately; and a delicious lamb stew in the largest pot I've ever seen in our home. We drafted my daughter to quickly craft some info cards for each dish, and everyone gleefully dug in. The unofficial party theme was "no kissing, no vampires." One neighbor said, "I'm bringing a friend and a bottle of Scope."

I might have been most impressed by the multitude of garlic desserts: garlic truffles, garlic chocolate-chip cookies, and yes, someone did make garlic ice cream (to the delight of the kids) topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. The only downside was that there was so much garlic that after a while, I couldn't even taste it anymore. The garlic truffles just tasted like (really good) chocolate to me. Also, I couldn't stop brushing my teeth, and I don't think our kitchen floor has ever been this dirty in all the years we've lived here.

These are tiny matters. A wonderful time was indeed had by all, and our small house was filled with very full, very happy people. Some guests just brought beer or wine, of course, or apologized if they had a non-garlic-themed or non-lamb-themed dish. I think there's a part of Brian's dorm party that still exists in all of us: Frankly, we're still just happy if people show up at all.

But having a theme makes an easy springboard for some welcome culinary adventures. One friend has already suggested a topic for Garlic Fest 4: Six Degrees Of Bacon, or Porky's Revenge. Knowing Brian, he'll also start sketching out ideas for that one months in advance. Can't wait.